MARIANNA, Fla., Aug. 31 (UPI) -- The first human remains were found Saturday in a makeshift cemetery at the old Dozier School for Boys in Florida, authorities said.
A team of researchers from the University of South Florida are looking for the remains of young wards of the Marianna school, which operated from 1900 to 2011. Their goal is to identify the bodies, learn how they died and return them to their families, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The first set of remains were found at the bottom of a shallow hole about 30 yards north of rows of pipe crosses put up in the 1990s based on folklore.
Erin Kimmerle, a USF forensic anthropologist, estimated a casket handle found nearby was from the 1940s, the newspaper said.
The first round of digging will go on until Tuesday, with plans for weeks of work in the future.
"It's a very slow process and we wanted to start out using very traditional archaeological methods to control the context," Kimmerle said.
The researchers' efforts were watched by a group of older men who stood along a tall chain-linked fence topped with razor wire, the Times said. The men call themselves the Black Boys of Dozier and the White House Boys. Since 2008 they have come forward with stories of physical and sexual abuse at the school in the 1950s and 1960s. Others have told about boys who disappeared and others who were beaten by guards.
"We're not here to castigate the state of Florida, but it was important to me to be here so that my grandson could understand," said John Due, a lawyer, his arm on the 9-year-old grandson's shoulder. "So that we could resolve some of the bitterness."
The facility was called the Florida School for Boys or the Florida Industrial School at the time. Dozens of remains may be found, if the researchers' initial testing proves true.